It’s time for India to confront Hindutva

Ajaz Zaka

A Pakistani friend of mine, who has always had a soft corner for India and has extended family on both sides of the border, is most bewildered these days at the way things have been unfolding in India under the current order.

“I do not have words to express my distress about what India has become,” she messaged in the wake of the Kathua horror in Kashmir that involves the macabre rape and murder of an eight-year old Muslim girl. “I cannot believe that people are divided about a case that is at once a disgrace for all of humanity as it is for India. All this reminds me of the horrible Partition stories that I have heard or read.”

As if the brutal gang-rape and murder of Asifa, apparently to punish her community, was not shameful enough, a group of local lawyers – of all people – and the Hindutva gang have the gall to come out on the streets in support of the rapist-killers and even prevent the filing of a charge sheet in the case.

It was not just the eight animals in a temple who preyed on the eight-year-old shepherd girl; she was victimised by the entire society and its champions of ‘beti parhao, beti bachao’ (educate and save your daughters!)

This regime seems to bring out the worst in us, as I wrote back to my friend. One never knew that we were capable of so much hate and such intolerable cruelty and meanness towards our own kind, especially when victims are defenceless, vulnerable children like Asifa.

The atrocities and appalling crimes against humanity that India has witnessed over the past few years against the most vulnerable sections of society – women, children and minorities – have no parallels in history. Yet, they seem to evoke little reaction from both society and the powers that be.

Unfortunately, these rapes, riots and lynchings in the name of all that is holy have become the new normal of the new India. This is the single largest achievement of this regime, which came into power by promising ache din (good times) and never tires of invoking the mantra of ‘sab ka sath, sab ka vikas’ (inclusion and progress for all) with a straight face.

What is most remarkable about this state of affairs is the extent to which Indian society has been infected by the virus of communal hatred and bigotry. As many pundits, including those from the Right, have rightly argued that if India has remained a secular and inclusive democracy in a volatile neighbourhood, the credit largely goes to the majority of Hindus.

That the majority of ordinary Hindus happen to be peace-loving and reasonable – just like people anywhere – is a fact.

Let’s not forget that even the current lot of rulers, for all their brute numerical strength in parliament, have been elected by less than 31 percent of India’s population. This means that in our first-past-the-post system of Westminster democracy, 69 percent of people did not vote for the glorious rule of the BJP. This is not just the worst regime in the country’s history, it also happens to be the least representative of all elected governments so far.

Yet the sane and sensible majority has either overlooked or chosen to maintain its silence in the face of all that has been unleashed on the nation in their name. Indeed, instead of confronting the Parivar on its claims to represent and speak for a noble faith and its followers – who are known for their tolerance and peace-loving nature – more and more people seem to be condoning its crimes against humanity and Indian democracy.

Over the past few years, one has increasingly heard friends and intellectuals complain of an alarming and never-before-witnessed polarisation of Indian society along religious lines. More and more people, otherwise known for their fair and peaceful nature, are either openly backing extremists or tacitly supporting them out of their misplaced sectarian sense of loyalty.

Ignoring the appalling crimes against minorities and the rule of lynch mobs that the Parivar has unleashed on a great faith and ancient civilisation, the good people have been rooting for the Right. They have ostensibly fallen for Hindutva’s claim to champion Hinduism and Hindus. This may be why the BJP has continued its winning streak in various states in the face of the numerous economic disasters that it has gifted the country – not to mention its incredible bumbling on other fronts.

If any other party had been guilty of the twin disasters of demonetisation and incredibly inept goods and services tax (GST), it would have been subjected to the severest of chastisement. While the rich friends of the BJP and Modi get richer, the country still reels from the catastrophic effects of the bizarre note ban. There is no money in banks or ATMs, with politicians and economists openly talking of a run on the banks.

In a country where agriculture remains the largest source of livelihood and whose farm output is the second largest in the world, thousands of farmers have been killing themselves. Indigenous industries, with millions of jobs in both organised and unorganised sectors, have disappeared. As for the law and order situation, the less said the better.

Yet, the saffron party keeps winning. There is only one explanation for this, unless you believe in all those conspiracy theories about electronic voting machines and rigged polls: too many good, gullible people still take Hindutva’s claim to represent Hinduism seriously, which is an epic tragedy. There cannot be a greater irony than the fact that an extremist fringe now claims and is perceived as speaking for a peace-loving, all-embracing religion.

I can imagine how emasculating this must be for the silent, sane majority of Hindus. For this is a catastrophe that has befallen my own faith, with all kinds of extremists appointing themselves as spokespersons and ‘defenders’ of Islam and committing unspeakable crimes against fellow Muslims and other innocent people.

As I have repeatedly argued with reference to extremism in the name of Islam, Hindutva extremism has emerged as an existential threat to Hinduism and Hindus. In fact, the threat is even more acute than what the Muslim world faces; extremists have not been in power in Muslim countries yet. We also don’t see government ministers come out on the streets defending rapists and killers as they did in Kathua in Jammu and Kashmir, outraging people and the media around the world.

Thanks to the years and decades of efforts by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and its various front organisations, such as the BJP, no section of the state and society – from politics and the media to the police, security forces and judiciary – today is unaffected by the saffron scourge.

Again, as many have argued with reference to Islam, this ideological onslaught on Hinduism and Indian democracy – this siege within – can be tackled by no one other than the Hindus themselves who constitute more than 80 percent of India’s population.

It is time for the silent majority to speak up and confront extremists in their midst before it is too late. Hindutva fascism has emerged as the clear and present danger to both Hinduism and Indian democracy.

The writer is an independent writer and former newspaper editor.


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